Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The importance of selfless acts of kindness

Today, I am delighted to welcome guest blogger William Murray, a faculty member in the Mount's Business & Tourism department. William, or also known as 'Bill' on campus, has a compelling message to share about the impact and importance of volunteerism and community. After all, today is Caritas Day at the Mount - a day we celebrate acts of kindness.



Another January is upon us and the Mount community celebrates another Caritas Day.

Established by the Sisters of Charity after the campus fire of 1951, Caritas Day is one day each year for the Mount to focus on giving back to our community, a community that gave so generously and selflessly to us in a time of need so many years ago.

‘Caritas’ - funny word. It’s Latin for charity, for acts of selfless kindness that come from a place of love.

Last year was my first experience with Caritas Day. I was told we were just going to do a little charity work in the morning; I was told incorrectly, lied to even.

There was nothing ‘just’ about the day. It was a Master’s class in doing important things for other human beings simply because we had the resources and other people were worthy of our efforts. I wrote about its powerful impact on me here. 

Now I’ve only been living in Halifax for just under two years. Before coming to Halifax, I lived and worked in a town of just over 1,800 people. A ‘town’ by official designation, yet those of us who lived there just considered it our community. The people gave it life; you knew most everyone and yes, everyone knew you, whether you liked it or not. Neighbours helped out as needed, without being asked, without any sense of gain on the other side. Sharing and doing was just a way of life there.

Before we left in the summer of 2010, my wife and I received phone calls regularly from people in the community wishing us well and telling us of the impact we had made in our community with simple, often unnoticed acts of volunteerism. Some of these people we had not met face to face in nine years, but still they called and shared kind words because it mattered. Doing something mattered.
I think about that often when I drive into campus each morning, about my community and how it has both changed and remained the same. 

The Mount itself is over three times the size of the town I use to live in. And yet we are very much a community brought together on the hill. Although we often are shy about honking our own horns, we are a community committed to giving back. Whether it's individual acts of volunteering by students, staff or faculty, fundraising for important charities or even larger commitments towards social enterprise and social justice, we are engaged.

We understand that the dictionary identifies ‘community’ as a noun, but that it is actually an active verb. Communities are not passive; they do things.

So ask yourself: What you are going to do to engage with other? What will you offer up, not because you have something to gain but rather because you have something to give?  How are you investing in your community?

Perhaps you’ll help collect donated food from local homes this week.  Perhaps you’ll have the pleasure of working side by side with the Sisters of Charity. Perhaps you’ll spend an hour carefully making sandwiches for someone in need of food that night, someone who won’t see your face when they receive that gift of food, but will most certainly feel your spirit.

I know that’s what I’ll be doing once again this Wednesday on Caritas Day - making sandwiches. And if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll get to decorate some cookies too. I still remember my lessons from last year. The Sisters taught me that sprinkles, like smiles, are good for the spirit; both should be shared liberally.

William Murray